Chapter Nine: Home

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He didn't see the beast again before he left. He considered going to look for her, but he'd never been in her area of the palace before and to navigate the twists and turns of its corridors would have taken too long.

The following morning, after one last delicious breakfast of fresh fruit and pastries, Beau found Philipe saddled and waiting for him outside the castle door. He had been attached to a wooden cart loaded with crates and chests; a parting gift, Beau assumed.

Beau looked at his horse and sighed. He knew he should be celebrating his freedom and be excited to return home, but he couldn't find his enthusiasm. The idea of life outside of this castle seemed no more enticing than it had before his imprisonment. And the knowledge that he was leaving the beast in solitude again did nothing to lift his spirits. Perhaps he could come and visit. Assuming his life didn't return to the relentless workload that had occupied it before; assuming Louis and Gabe had taken some responsibility for the farm and their family, maybe the occasional day off to visit wouldn't be out of the question. He could even bring the girls with him.

Cheered by the thought of his sisters, imagining the empty palace corridors filled with their laughter as they skated across ballroom floors and slid down banisters, Beau smiled and mounted Philippe. He looked up at the castle one last time and was certain he saw a curtain flick back into place before he turned towards the palace gates and his journey home.

"Beau?" He heard the cry before he saw them.



His name echoed across the farmyard in his sisters' voices. Then they were running towards him, barrelling into him before he'd had a chance to properly dismount.

Was he imagining it, or had they grown taller in his absence? Rose, surely, had shot up like a weed; Clara's hair was down past her waist; Estelle's eyes were deeper - sadder.

"Beau! You're home!" Rose cried gleefully, hugging him tightly.

"Are you really back?" Clara asked, her arms clamped firmly round him. "Is it really you?"

"I knew you would return!" Estelle said, the smile not quite reaching her eyes. "I knew we wouldn't have to be without you forever."

Beau took from her words and tone that all had not been as well at the farm as he had hoped.

"Girls, go and tell father the good news," Estelle said, herding the others back towards the house. Once they were out of sight, she gestured for Beau to sit beside her on the old brick well they used for their water supply.

"Where is father? And Louis and Gabe?"

"Father has been changed by his grief at losing you, and his guilt. He's weaker than ever before and needs help to even make it to the kitchen table. Gabe and Louis have taken on some of the work, but we quickly discovered that two of them could never match one of you. They don't have the patience or the work ethic to keep up with the load. We've all had to help, and even then food and money has been scarce. I don't think it helps that its the boys who go to market. They denied it when I confronted them, but I'm certain they spend some of the money we make on themselves before they even come home. Gabe grumbled something about "needing some reward for all their hard work," last time I accused him of going to the tavern. The way they complain, you'd think they'd worked us out of poverty, not spent a few hours labouring in the farm." She sniffed and used the edge of her threadbare sleeve to wipe away the tears that were beading in the corner of her eye.

Beau wrapped his arm around his sister, drawing her close to his side so that her head rested on his shoulder.

"I'm home now. Things will be better, I promise."

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